During the Cold War period (1947-1991), the Ministry for State Security (Ministerium für Staatssicherheit or MfSS) was responsible for both domestic surveillance and espionage in the Soviet-occupied German Democratic Republic (GDR). The Cold War was the geopolitical, ideological and economic struggle between two world superpowers, the US and the USSR and their respective allies. It started after World War II and lasted until the dissolution of the Soviet Union on December 26, 1991.
The MfSS, headquartered in East Berlin, was wideIy regarded as one of the most effective and repressive intelligence and secret police agencies in the world. At its peak, the MfSS employed 90,000 officers full-time. Stasi, an abbreviation for Staatssicherheit (literally: State Security), is what the secret police of East Germany were commonly called. With the assistance of approximately 190,000 informants, it monitored East German citizens; kept track of those persons who were considered enemies or potential enemies of the communistic GDR state and its ruling SED Party; and conducted covert operations in West Germany, West Berlin, and elsewhere in the West, including the faraway US. The Stasi was formed in 1950 and dissolved after German reunification in 1990.
The army of secret informants that helped the Stasi carry out its surveillance and espionage activities included persons from all segments of GDR society. They were called unofficial collaborators (unoffizielle Mitarbeiter) and the identity of each was known only to that individual’s secret police handler. Each collaborator had an alias or code name that was used in the written reports they or their handlers made; their actual identities were not recorded anywhere and were therefore at the highest level of top-secret information. These unidentifiable informants were often in direct contact with persons considered to be enemies of the state, not only in the GDR but occasionally in foreign countries as well. The information they collected and reports they made to their secret police handlers on individuals under surveillance were kept in so-called Stasi-files. In the early 1990s, not long after German reunification, I learned that such a file had been compiled on me and was able to obtain a copy of it in 1999. My file is almost 400 pages long. It is filled with information Stasi officers and their collaborators had assembled on me in the 1970s and 1980s when I was thought to be engaging in activities that were hostile to the GDR state. Reading and digesting the file’s contents was a fascinating but unsettling exercise that spanned several years. For the first time in my life, I was able to view myself—for better or for worse—through the eyes of others. Rarely does one have such an opportunity.
The file reveals that there were nine and possibly ten unofficial collaborators of one type or another who reported on my GDR-related activities and passed along information on me to the Stasi. Not surprisingly, most of these were in the literary field. Three were writers: Paul Wiens (code name “Poet”), a well-known, well-connected author and communist party loyalist; the prominent prose writer and opportunist Fritz Rudolf Fries (code name “Pedro Hagen”); and the poet Uwe Berger (code name “Uwe”), a cunning opportunist motivated more by careerism than ideology. Three other unofficial collaborators were connected in various ways to the GDR’s literary world: Konrad Reich, head of the Hinstorff Verlag, a prestigious publishing house in Rostock; Anneliese Löffler (code name “Dölbl”), a professor of German literature at the Humboldt University who was assigned to keep tabs on me while I was carrying out a major project in Berlin as an IREX (International Research and Exchanges Board) scholar; and Eberhard Scheibner, a functionary in charge of the international department of the GDR Writers’ Union. I am going to devote a snapshot to each one of these corrupt individuals who eagerly betrayed East German writers and intellectuals for personal gain. In addition, I will put a bright spotlight on prominent prose writer Hermann Kant, who in my opinion was the most despicable scoundrel of all.